The next-generation Subaru Brumby that never was


At the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show, Subaru showed off its vision for a next-generation compact recreational ute – one timed to pick up where the departing Brumby left off.

Called the Suiren, Japanese for water lily, the powder blue ute provided a telling glimpse of what Subaru had in mind, not only for the Brumby’s successor, but perhaps even future generations of the Impreza.

In the same way the Brumby was based on the mainstream mechanical package of the Leone, the Suiren shared its underpinnings with the Leone’s replacement, the Impreza.

Having only been launched in 1992, the Impreza itself was still relatively new, providing plenty of opportunity to spin off new variants.

In the case of the Suiren that means borrowed bits like the Impreza’s available all-wheel-drive system, and under the bonnet a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine, plucked from the Liberty, producing a fairly sedate 118kW and 230Nm.

Perhaps the most interesting element was the Suiren’s transmission, developed by Prodrive for use in the World Rally Championship, the semi-automatic ‘sports-shift’ allowed push-button shifts via the steering wheel, with an electronically controlled actuator firing off sequential shifts.

Of course, Subaru’s well renowned full-time four-wheel-drive system was also specified, with a viscous limited-slip centre differential.

Externally, the Suiren was presented as a dual-purpose ute, with a lightweight rear canopy covering the cargo bed providing the security and weather-resistance of a wagon, with the ability to easily remove the rear cover to unlock the load-hauling ability of a ute. Between the tray and the cabin, a folding rear bulkhead allowed the cargo bed to be extended.

Unlike the more conventionally styled Impreza on which it was based, the Suiren even gave what may have been an early glimpse of the next-gen bug-eye Impreza, although that model wouldn’t enter production until 2000.

The quad-light face wasn’t particularly new for Subaru, however, with the 1989 SRD-1 concept and 1993 Sagres concept both featuring a variation of a four-light face. In Suiren’s case, the bold outer lights gave a distinctly startled appearance. At the rear, slim horizontal lamps wrapped around the corners of the car.

Closer to reality, though, the Suiren featured two-tone body work and raised suspension, which would later become hallmarks of the Outback Sport (in the US) and Impreza Gravel Express (in Japan), essentially the ingredients Australians would come to know as the Impreza RV, and later as the stand-alone XV range.

Alongside the outgoing Brumby, which was discontinued in Australia during 1994, the Suiren not only offered more power compared to the humble 61kW 1.8-litre boxer four, tied to a four-speed manual transmission, but also grew in size. With an overall length of 4630mm, the Suiren was 270mm longer than a Brumby (pictured below), as well as being 140mm wider (1760mm) and 170mm taller with its rear canopy attached (1540mm), perched on an 80mm longer wheelbase (2520mm) shared with the Impreza.


While the Suiren never made the move to production, Subaru didn’t entirely abandon the idea of a passenger car-based ute. Between 2002 and 2006, Subaru USA produced a dual-cab ute called the Baja, based on the third-generation Liberty (or Legacy, as it was known there).

Although larger overall, no doubt to appease the North American market that was far more used to the dimensions of full-size body on frame pick-up trucks, the Baja never quite enjoyed the success of its forebear.

While Subaru estimated it could shift as many as 24,000 Bajas per year, after four-and-a-half years in production, the numbers just made it to 30,000 in total. The Brat (Subaru’s name for the Brumby in the US) managed closer to 100,000 units in North America over a nine-year stint from 1978 to 1987.

As for the Suiren, little came of its 1993 Tokyo Motor Show expedition. Despite a more subdued tone for the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show, the first to take place in the recession that marked Japan’s ‘Lost Decade’, the Suiren had to compete for attention with a number of high-profile cars.

Toyota had numerous concepts on stage, along with a production-ready preview of the RAV4, Nissan showed the world the production S14 Silvia/200SX and the more fanciful AP-X concept, and Isuzu previewed the VehiCross.

Compact electric vehicles and a growing number of vehicles in the then newly emerging crossover segment meant there was plenty to focus on. Alongside the more popular (for Western media outlets) Legacy that debuted at the same time, the poor, niche Suiren didn’t seem to stand much of a chance and never made the move to production as a next-generation Brumby.

Kez Casey migrated from behind spare parts counters to writing about cars over ten years ago. Raised by a family of automotive workers, Kez grew up in workshops and panel shops before making the switch to reviews and road tests for The Motor Report, Drive and CarAdvice.

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